Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
We played on: PlayStation 4
Unravel, by Coldwood Interactive, is an adorable puzzle-platformer starring Yarny, a small creature made of red yarn. Yarny must traverse the wilds of northern Scandinavia to collect small mementos. Along the way, Yarny encounters perils like angry crows, harsh weather, and dangerous machinery.
Unravel opens with an old woman. Her house is full of photographs, but she lives alone. She seems pretty bummed out about this. We meet the gender-neutral Yarny when they fall out of a basket of yarn and begin exploring the woman’s house. Unravel has about 10 levels, and each level is represented by a photograph.
To be perfectly honest…I’m not exactly sure what the story of Unravel is. I definitely got the sense that I was reuniting a family, but it was unclear to me why they were separated, even after finishing the game. There was a strong feeling of nostalgia that ran throughout. Periodically Yarny encountered strange ghost-like images that seemed to represent memories, but I had trouble understanding how they connected to one another. Maybe I missed something while I was focusing on a puzzle. Out of nowhere, there were several levels with an environmental message. Yarny passed by puddles of acid-green waste, a protestor being arrested, and people in yellow hazmat suits destroying the natural beauty of Scandinavia. It was…weird. I assume these images were part of the family’s history, but they felt disconnected from the rest of the game.
Luckily—and this is very unlike me—it was pretty easy to ignore the story. Unravel has a gorgeous aesthetic. I especially love the music, which was elegant and soothing even when I had to listen to it over and over. The game did a very smooth job of blending the gameplay with its short cut scenes. The detail of the environment was lovely, and Yarny’s movements were very emotive without using any dialogue.
Just don’t ask me what the game was actually about.
Unravel is a pretty straightforward puzzle-platformer. The most unique feature is Yarny’s yarn, which you can use to tie knots, create lassos, build slingshots, and more. Swinging around the levels is pretty satisfying. A few very clever puzzles come out of the use of yarn, but on the whole, the gameplay is not particularly intellectual. Most of the obstacles that gave me trouble were things that seemed like they should have been easy, which was frustrating. There was a lot of unnecessary repetition. I definitely prefer to be stuck on a brain teaser than on a ledge that’s just a little out of reach.
Overall, Unravel didn’t really feel like it was bringing anything new to the table. That’s fine—I had a pretty good time anyway. But don’t expect anything groundbreaking.
Unravel is rated E for Mild Fantasy Violence. Yarny does die pretty often, and sometimes in ways that are startling (like being swarmed by cockroaches or crushed by heavy machinery). However, there’s no blood or gore. I do wish that the game’s creators had chosen a different sound effect for Yarny’s demise, one that was a little less…bone-crunchy. But I still think this game is fine for most kids. If you’re not sure, you could try watching some Let’s Plays.
Unravel is beautiful. While its story isn’t spelled out very clearly, there is a strong sense of family and love that connects each scene. I think it would be a really nice game for a parent and child to share because of the lovely settings and warm atmosphere. Plus, if you get really into it, you can try making your own Yarny as an art project.
And who knows? Maybe Unravel will inspire your kids to call their grandparents. Believe it or not, my grandmother (who never calls) actually phoned me right when I was finishing up the final level. Perhaps the power of Yarny is more real than we know.